How many aspects are there to a pastoral ministry? A thousand? There’s preaching, studying, pastoral calling, counseling, administration, writing, moderating business meetings, conflict resolution, teaching, prayer, denominational service, motivation, planning meetings, mentoring, correspondence, communication, and cartooning. (Okay, I just put the last one in there because it was always a part of my pastoral work.)
Now, under each of those categories there are subdivisions. “Preaching” involves various kinds of preaching, different styles and reasons and goals. “Studying” may involve learning the original languages, reading theological textbooks, combing through commentaries, reading books of sermons, and pursuing all kinds of online resources.
Okay. Now, here’s the point.
If we made a list of one thousand aspects of a typical pastoral ministry, we would find someone somewhere who is passionate about each one.
I guarantee you that someone somewhere is passionate about writing a column for the church newsletter, someone else is passionate about staff meetings, another is passionate about pastoral calling in the homes of members. A huge percentage of preachers is passionate about delivering sermons and a smaller percentage about doing the study which preaching requires.
Passion. It means a single-mindedness. Whatever is our passion turns us on, drives us, pulls us, motivates us. We love it above all else. If the ministry were taken away from us today, this is what we would miss most.
Figure out the five worst jobs in your ministry, pastor, and somewhere there are preachers who love those tasks above all else. The human animal is complex and comes in ten thousand varieties.
No, ten billion is more like it. With no two alike. Anyway….
I cannot quit thinking about a conversation with James in my office one day. He had pastored several churches and owned two seminary degrees, but at the moment was “between churches.” As the director of missions, I was the denominational go-to guy to help him find a church. At least, in his thinking I was.
“I have to preach, Joe!” he said, growing excited. “It’s in my blood! I’m passionate about preaching.”
I knew that about him, and therefore used that moment to make a point.
“Jim, that might be the problem, my friend.”
“What do you mean?”
“Preaching should not be your passion. Jesus should be your passion.”
Give him credit. Jim took that like a man. In fact, he settled back down in his chair and, after a moment, said, “Wow. Thank you for that. You are so right.”
So, what is your passion, preacher? And how does it compare with your passion for Jesus?
I’m thinking of several scriptural characters who needed help on their passion.
The young Apostle Paul had a passion for apologetics.
According to Acts 9, after Paul’s return from his time with Jesus in the Arabian desert (see Galatians 1:17-18), he began preaching with a vengeance. His defense of the faith, by Luke’s account, was strong and passionate.
But Saul grew more capable, and kept confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that this One is the Messiah. (Acts 9:22)
In Jerusalem, he kept at it. Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they attempted to kill him. (9:28-29)
And that was the problem. This left-brained apostle was more passionate about debating, about the truth, about the knowledge he now grasped, than he was about Jesus or people. So, the Lord did him a favor. He shelved Saul for a time by sending him home to Tarsus. He gave him time to reflect on matters. Then, when a revival broke out in Antioch of Syria, he was ready. From that time on, he was a different man. (See Acts 11:25ff)
Job’s friends had a passion for truth and for debating error.
The bulk of the 42 chapters of the Old Testament book of Job are made up of the theological pronouncements of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They were zealous for the truth as they saw it and did not care who got in the way or what injury they inflicted. Their convictions were pre-eminent, their truth was God’s truth, their contributions to Job were the alpha and omega of the issue.
In their great passion for the truth, these three men forgot God and they left out mankind.
In the little epistles of I, II, and III John, “speaking the truth in love” is an oft-repeated theme. Truth and love provide great counterbalances to each other. Truth without love can be harsh and legalistic and unyielding. Love without truth is sentimental and soft and undependable. But love with truth and truth in love, that’s an unbeatable combination.
“…speaking the truth in love….” (Ephesians 4:15)
Jonah had a passion for the Jews, God’s people.
We know almost nothing about Jonah’s life and ministry outside the four chapters of this tiny book, but we can deduce certain things: he was a preacher, he had a history of serving God, and he wanted to confine his ministry to the Jews. He had no problem with preaching and He knew the Lord well enough to know His methodologies (witness his words to the sailors in 1:12).
It might even be that Jonah had a passion for preaching.
What he did not have was a passion for God and for obeying Him. That is the primary lesson of this little Old Testament book: the servant of the Lord has one job, to obey his Master.
Moses–at least early on–had a passion for his people.
As a young adult, when he saw one of his people being mistreated, Moses took matters into his own hands and killed the perpetrator. (Exodus 2:12) These were “his own people” (vs. 11) and their condition mattered to him to the point that he risked his exalted status in Egypt to defend them.
That didn’t work out well, he must have thought to himself a hundred times while keeping sheep down in Midian.
Only at age 80 did God figure Moses had mellowed and matured sufficiently to be able to serve Him successfully. Throughout the four Old Testament books detailing his lengthy story, at no point can we accuse Moses of being fixated on the wonderful people of God. In fact, he grew so exasperated with them throughout the wilderness wanderings, it was all he could do to stay on the job.
Moses’ passion was for God. Obeying Him was everything.
David was passionate about God…mostly.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” This opening of Psalm 23 pretty well sums it up. But David gave us many variations on this theme….
“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my mountain where I seek refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-2)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom should I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
“Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give thee the desires of thy heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
The only problem with David, as with you and me, is that from time to time, the Lord was not enough for him. He wanted conquest, he wanted greatness, he wanted women who were outside God’s will for him, and he wanted everyone around him to obey him.
Passion is not a static thing. It comes and goes. My zeal for the Lord today will not sustain me tomorrow, but must be renewed day by day.
Paul deals with the matter of passion in the great 13th chapter of I Corinthians.
The apostle addresses four passions that drive the people of God from time to time. They appear great from the outside and receive accolades from the Lord’s people. However, they are inadequate by themselves.
1) Preaching and speaking for God. If I speak with the tongues of men and angels and do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2) Prophecy and knowledge. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and…do not have love, I am nothing.
3) Faith and miracles. If I have all faith so that I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
4) Generosity and sacrifices. If I donate all my goods to feed the poor and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
The one thing this chapter never quite tells us–to my satisfaction at least–is the object of the love which Paul is calling for. People love all kinds of things, and can infuse those affections with the noblest of motives. Parents who love their children above all else justify taking them out of church on weekends for school responsibilities and athletic contests, and do so out of love. Men and women abandon their spouses and children to be with other people, all in the name of love.
So, what kind of love? Directed toward whom?
Scripturally, the love that matters most is first, love for God, and secondly, love for people. Those, we recall, are the two greatest commandments by which we are to live and without which we cannot please God. (Matthew 22:37-39)
Years ago, a minister of music explained his philosophy in a way that opened my eyes. He said, “My life is not about music. My passion is worshiping God. Music is just the medium.”
I had known many musicians and singers for whom their talent, their gift, their music, was their life. But this was the first time I had found someone put the musical talent in its proper place.
Serving God is supreme. Loving Him, obeying Him, focusing on Him.
Everything else comes under His Lordship. If it does not serve Him, it has to go.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.